The Appearance of Offense in a Scoring Desert

Whether you are a “the season is over” kinda guy, or one of those “the offseason has just started” folks, your ears have to perk up when your team makes a move. The Rockies recently made one by declining the option on Gerardo Parra, and whether that indicates real change coming or just walking in place (they could resign him as a free agent at a lower cost), it presents an opportunity to look at the Rockies of 2018 and to project what they will be in 2019. Because of the environment in which they play, Coors Field, sitting at a mile above sea level (see the row of purple seats in the upper deck for the mile high line), just looking at standard unadjusted stats can give you the wrong impression.

Because their offensive numbers are grossly inflated by their park, they often are spoken of as having one of the best hitting teams in baseball even when they are sporting a below average offense – like in 2018. Here’s just one example of raw stats versus park-adjusted stats: The Rockies finished 2nd in the NL in team runs scored, but when you adjust for their home park and instead use a park adjusted stat like wRC+ (park adjusted runs created where 100 is league average) then the Rockies fall to 12th in the league and 21st in baseball tied with the 115 loss Orioles and just ahead of the Padres, Marlins, and Giants in the NL. Gulp. The Rockies offense was awful. They had 3 full-time regulars who had wRC+ numbers at or above 100 and I am pretty sure casual Rockies fans can name them – in descending order we have Nolan Arenado (132), Trevor Story (127), and Charlie Blackmon (116). By comparison, the Braves who finished 6th in team wRC+ had 6 guys with more than 350 plate appearances who were above 100. The Dodgers who finished first as a team, had 9. Now that we have established that the Rockies have an anemic offense, is it possible to pinpoint the causes and some solutions?

The Rockies started 2018 with some clear weaknesses in their lineup at 1st base and left field partly due to a bad free agent signing tying their hands – see Ian Desmond – and partly because of injury – see David Dahl (see David Dahl on the DL often!). Desmond seems like a great guy and definitely has a positive impact on the community with his work raising awareness and money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation to fight NF (https://www.ctf.org/ if you want to donate), but he plays primarily offense oriented positions and has posted wRC+ scores of 81 (19% below league average) last year and 69 (31% below league average) in 2017 – the first two years of his 5 year, $70 million contract. Three more years to go with a team option for 2022 for the 33 year old, who is the primary first baseman and sometimes left fielder, looks bleak at the moment. It isn’t clear that he will ever be a valuable offensive player again as his ground ball rate the last two seasons has skyrocketed – 10 points above his career average in each of his two seasons with the Rockies (62.7% and 62.0% respectively) and his rate of soft hit balls is also above his career average. One number that could point to a better 2019 is his 2018 BABIP of .236 which often points to bad luck, but could also be tied to that very high ground ball rate, as grounders more often turn into outs. And his glove isn’t special either as indicated by DRS at first base of -6. In a limited number of appearances his work in left field was positive, but that spot belongs to David Dahl when he is healthy. How could the Rockies make lemonade out of Desmond? Sadly, if they can’t trade him then they need to forget how much they are paying him, make him a bench bat, pinch runner, and utility guy – he has played short before – and spot him against lefties.

If Dahl is the starter in left, and Desmond moves to the bench then how can the club improve their offense without buying another bat? For starters, there is Ryan McMahon. As a former top prospect, the expectations have been high for McMahon, and until Desmond signed it appeared that the rookie would be given a shot to take the starting first base spot. In the minors McMahon has hit, and hit with power. He has averaged around .290 with 20+ homers and 50-60 walks throughout his minor league career. It is unclear why the Rockies haven’t given him a serious shot at the first base spot, although they have a reputation for being miserly with the chances they give to rookie position players. He has mostly pinch-hit in his long stretches on the big league squad with short stretches of regular playing time interspersed with the occasional start. He began his career as a third baseman but started playing first base and some second because Nolan Arenado is blocking his natural position. It doesn’t look like the team has thought of trying him in the outfield as he has never played a single inning there as a professional. The Rockies are pretty flush at second even if they let three time Gold Glover, DJ LeMahieu walk in free agency – more on LeMahieu later. With Trevor Story firmly entrenched at short blocking the team’s top prospect, shortstop Brendan Rodgers – and Rodgers now playing short, second, and third in the minors – Rodgers and rookie shortstop Garrett Hampson are the two most likely youngsters to take over for LeMahieu should he move to browner dirt. So where does that leave McMahon? The Rockies need to take a big swallow and push Desmond to the side to give McMahon a real chance to be a starter in the majors, and first base is his best bet and the cheapest option for the Rockies to add offense to their lineup.

Another potential lineup change that could improve the offense might be in the outfield. The reason an outfield spot might be open is that Colorado declined the option on Gerardo Parra, and Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Holliday are both free agents (again). The Rockies might re-sign one or all three of their veteran outfielders, but that is unlikely (maybe unwise is a better term) even though Gonzalez finished 5th among Rockie regulars with a wRC+ of 96 – still 4% below league average, and Holliday, in just 53 at bats, had a wRC+ of 122. Parra has been eating outs for most of his career. His last wRC+ above 95 was in 2015. Holliday is not a good defender, while Cargo is slightly below league average on both sides of the plate, and Parra is the emptiest .280 hitter on Earth – possibly on Venus as well. If the goal is to improve your offense without totally giving up on defense then spend your money by not signing those three and let someone else take over in one of the corner spots not filled by Dahl, who can play left or right.

But let’s say the Rockies are just not in love with McMahon. There are possibilities sitting at triple-A Albuquerque, including some prospects, and some guys who are a little too old to qualify as prospects, but are still quality ballplayers. Mike Tauchman is one of the latter at 27. He is a speedy outfielder who also can park the ball in the stands and slashed .323/.408/.571 for the Isotopes last season. He has 59 AB’s in the bigs and has fanned a lot, which is not a big part of his game in the minors. Raimel Tapia is more of a prospect who hasn’t broken out yet, but at 24 needs a chance to see what he can do when he plays regularly. If you are only interested in outfielders who can hit bombs then Tapia is not your dude. At 6’2 and 180 (according to MILB.com – no way he weighs that much – more like the 160 he lists at in Baseball Prospectus), he is speedy and rangy. His game is all about slashing the ball around the field, getting lots of hits with his tremendous hit tool, not walking much at all, and using his speed to be a terror on the base paths and in the outfield. In part time work (239 plate appearances), he has posted a wRC+ of 72 but his numbers in the minors suggest that he will be an asset with the bat. The Rockies outfielders would cover a lot more of their enormous outfield with Tapia out there than with Cargo, Holliday, or Desmond. His ability to get hits and run also makes him a good 4th outfielder if the Rockies aren’t sold on him as a starter. It would be good to know once and for all, and that would take some at bats. So let Tapia start in right and install Tauchmann as your 4th outfielder, with McMahon as your everyday first baseman if you want to take the inexpensive homegrown route. There is also the more expensive option.

Even though the Rockies might feel burned by the market after signing Ian Desmond, one option would be to dip a toe in the free agent pool and make a “smaller” signing of a veteran like Michael Brantley to play a corner outfield spot, or Steve Pearce to play first. Neither player is likely to get more than a two year offer, so it wouldn’t be a long-term commitment, but either veteran would bolster the Rockies anemic offense in the short term. Brantley has a career wRC+ of 114 and posted 124 wRC+ in 2018 – his first full season back from injury. He is 31 and is a decent outfielder. Pearce has a career wRC+ of 113 with last season’s number coming in at 140 in time split with the Jays and the Sox. He is 35 and is a good defensive first baseman and a poor outfielder, but has experience there. The Rockies would likely be able to afford both men which would solve two problems while also improving their bench. Bryce Harper would be a lot of fun hitting in Coors Field but who has that kind of money?

Ah, DJ – Rockies fans love you and for good reason – three Gold Gloves and a batting title to go with a career .298 batting average. He is the kind of player who grows on you with his opposite field line drives and his flashy glove work at second. But remember, the Rockies need more offense and DJ is in the way of that – and a free agent. On that front, Colorado declined to make him a qualifying offer. One reason for not offering that one year contract safety net is the fear that the player will take you up on it. That says a lot about the Rockies plans for second base in 2019 and they don’t likely involve LeMahieu, who has posted wRC+ values of 94 and 86 in each of the last two seasons with a career mark of 90. Colorado has two good options and one of them proved last season that he could handle major league pitching.

As mentioned earlier, the Rockies best prospect is minor league shortstop, Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers has played short and second in the minors because the Rockies have a young shortstop who got some MVP chatter this year, so Rodgers needs to be flexible. The 22 year old got his first taste of triple-A and probably needs at least half a season to make himself ready for the majors, although it is clear that he will hit and hit for some power while possessing the ability to stick at shortstop or move over to second to accommodate Trevor Story. No problem. The Rockies have Garrett Hampson. Hampson wasn’t a high profile prospect even though he was taken in the 3rd round of the draft. Hampson has hit everywhere he has played, including Denver when the Rockies called him up to fill in for an injured LeMahieu at second. The young infielder’s minor league slash line is .315/.389/.457 and he has stolen 123 bases in 146 attempts. He is a top of the order hitter which would allow the Rockies to move Charlie Blackmon to the two or three spot and provide many RBI opportunities for Nolan Arenado. In only 40 at bats in the bigs last year, Hampson slashed .275/.396/.400 showing that he will likely continue to hit if given the time to play for the big club. Letting LeMahieu go, and installing Hampson at second could very well help the Rockies score more runs right now. If Hampson struggles, they have Rodgers waiting at triple-A.

The catcher’s position has turned into mostly a batless prairie in this time of launch angles and  big home run totals. The wRC+ positional average for catchers is around 84 – so 16% below league average for hitters in general. The Rockies mainly used Tony Wolters and Chris Iannetta behind the dish in 2018, with their top catching prospect, Tom Murphy, only getting 96 PAs with the big club in spite of a season at triple-A where he managed a wRC+ of 129. At the end of 2018 the Rockies gave Murphy’s spot to Drew Butera who only picked up a handful of at bats but also got Murphy’s spot in the playoffs. There are a lot of questions here, but the Rockies are likely to stick with Iannetta as the starter and Wolters and Murphy as the backups. Iannetta is very much a known quantity. His wRC+ last year was exactly league average for catchers at 84 – under his career mark of 96, so there is some room for bounce back with the age 35 caveat in place. He gets good marks for his pitch framing and is decent at slowing the running game if he gets help from the pitching staff – true of most catchers. He has good power and an excellent eye. If he weren’t already 35 he would get a lot more love for his skill set. The Rockies have him signed for one more year with an option for a second. Tony Wolters is a lot of fun to watch behind the plate because the converted middle infielder looks like a shortstop back there. He covers a lot of ground, has a good arm, and calls a good game – heck – he even plays the occasional inning at shortstop, second and third. How many catchers can say that? His 2018 numbers supported the view that he is an excellent receiver with 12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in just 74 games. If only he could hit even a little Wolters could start, but back to back wRC+ numbers below 50 is hard to take when you have very limited room on the bench. The only thing Wolters has going for him when he has a bat in his hands is his selectivity. His walk rate has been around 12% for two seasons now.

So in a spot where hardly anyone hits anymore, having a catcher like Iannetta who is at least average with a chance to be slightly more seems like a good thing. The Rockies need to give Murphy – who in spite of his other issues has serious raw power – a legitimate chance to play at the major league level, and stash Wolters at triple-A and give him a ton of reps at all the infield positions so that if Murphy doesn’t ultimately pan out they can bring Wolters back up to be an all glove – no bat bench piece who can wield leather at every position surrounding the pitchers mound.

It seems harder for the Rockies to let go of hitters because to their fans the hitters appear better than they actually are due to their home hitting environment. But that’s exactly what the Rockies need to do if they are going to support their excellent young starting pitchers who have shown they are ready right now. Cargo, Parra, Desmond, and even DJ LeMahieu should move on, as much as the fans might squawk, so that the Rockies can win now. When the fans see what a real offense looks like they will get over their ill-advised jersey purchases and embrace the new, winning Rockies. You will of course need to rip their LeMahieu jerseys from their screaming, writhing bodies, but such is the hard business of baseball. Sign me up for that Hampson jersey right now!

 

A Window In The Rockies And How To Exploit It

by Jim Silva

 

The Rockies made the playoffs last year, but unless you live in Colorado you may not have noticed. It was a big deal in Colorado because the Rockies hadn’t seen the post-season since 2009. The NL West was the toughest division to climb out of last season with the Rockies finishing third, winning 87 games, and grabbing the second Wild Card spot after Arizona, their division mate. In what most would think of as a twist, the Rockies thrived on the backs of a young pitching staff. It looked like their hitting succeeded if you didn’t pay attention to park adjusted stats. Only three full-time position players who wore the Purple and Black garnered at least 100 wRC+ (where 100 is average) which looks at runs created by a player and adjusts for park and league. The team wRC+ ranked 12th out of 15 National League teams. So as strange as it is to hear this uttered about a team that finished first in the NL in runs scored, the Rockies need more dudes who can hit.

You probably already know this, but Coors field is the most hospitable hitting environment in the MLB. The 2017 Park Factor, which calculates how easy it is to score runs in a given stadium, scores Coors Field at 116 where 100 is neutral, with scores above 100 favoring hitters over pitchers. For reference, Arizona’s home park comes in second at 105 and at the other end are the Padres and Mets home parks at 95. What this means is hitters get a tremendous statistical boost (about 16 percent above league average) when playing in Coors Field while pitchers stats take a pretty substantial hit. This is a simplification, as individuals get different benefits and penalties based on what kind of players they are. What this means is that park adjusted stats are even more important when looking at players who spend half their time in Coors Field as opposed to guys who play their home games at a neutral park. Nolan Arenado (129 wRC+), Charlie Blackmon (141 wRC+), and Mark Reynolds (104 wRC+, but below average WAR because his defense and base running numbers dragged it down) were the only above average offensive contributors among Rockies position players who were with the team most of the season. So ignoring Arenado and Blackmon who produced above average wRC+ (again, which is park adjusted) and had WAR above 2.0, let’s look at the rest of the position players to find places where change seems particularly necessary.

Generally speaking, the easiest places to add offense are at first base and left field as they are the least defensively challenging spots on the field, assuming you are a National League team – so no designated hitter. The Rockies planned on playing Ian Desmond at first base after spending $70 million to ink him to a deal before the season. Never mind that Desmond had never played first base. When Desmond broke his left hand during spring training, the Rockies brought back Mark Reynolds, who had signed a minor league deal after being their primary first baseman in 2016 when he played replacement level ball. In 2017, he did the one thing he does well just like he’d done in his prime. He hit home runs in bunches – 30 of them. Normally that would be enough to call it a great season and assume that the position was filled well. Reynolds produced 104 wRC+ which means he was a slightly better than average run producer after the ballpark and the league are taken into account. But remember, Reynolds was playing at the premium offensive position on the field. 104 is fine, but nothing to get too excited about, especially when you look at the rest of his game. His base running was below average and his fielding was actually poor, which is odd when you take into account that Reynolds is a former shortstop. His dWAR was -1.2, which means he cost the team runs with his glove. If you look at the totality of Mark Reynolds, he added runs with his bat and gave back some of that contribution with his glove and his base-running. So he ends up being a 0.9 WAR guy which is somewhere between a triple-A replacement and a low level major league starter. This is not intended to knock Reynolds – he filled in admirably for Desmond, but he was filling in, and should not have received almost 600 plate appearances for a playoff team. So first base is one spot where the Rockies will have to improve if they are going to beat their 87 wins from 2017.

Left field was mostly a hot mess for the Rockies in 2017. Gerardo Parra played good defense and contributed 90 wRC+ in 425 plate appearances. He spent most of his time in the field playing left (a little under 80%), but also put in some time in right with a few more innings in center and at first. Raimel Tapia spent a little less than half his time in left and most of the rest in right. His wRC+ of 81 was achieved in 171 plate appearances – he is just 24 and this was his first significant exposure to big league pitching. About 75% of Ian Desmond’s time with the glove was spent in left. His spring training injury that put him on the DL to start the season meant that he only reached 373 plate appearances. He put up a wRC+ of 69, which was definitely not what the Rockies expected when they signed him. A couple other guys saw limited time in left, but Parra, Desmond, and Tapia got the lion’s share of time in left as well as most of the plate appearances. Since 100 is average wRC+ you can see how they did in left field – a premium offensive position. The position did not yield the offensive production one would expect in 2017.

Second base is the realm of DJ LeMahieu, who made the All Star team (his second) in 2017 and also won a Gold Glove (also his second). DJ contributed 1.8 WAR in 2017, and looking at only his offensive contribution, LeMahieu generated 94 wRC+ – slightly below average – with a line drive/ground ball swing (55.6 ground-ball percentage). He will be the starter and get almost all of the playing time at second because of his glove and probably his perceived offensive value, but objectively, he is an average to slightly above average starter and not a star, so it wouldn’t destroy the team if the Rockies chose to add more offense at the position. That is blasphemous talk in Denver where LeMahieu is well-loved, but the Rockies best prospect is a middle infielder who might be just a year away. Brendan Rodgers could push Trevor Story off short to second where Story’s defense would likely play up, and Rodgers’ overall game would likely surpass both Story and LeMahieu. This is an unlikely scenario for the start of 2018 as Rodgers just finished a full season of high-A ball, but the Rockies also have Ryan McMahon who has played some second base and appears ready for a full time spot in the Majors – more on him later.

Trevor Story was somewhat of a revelation in 2016 with a wRC+ of 122 as a true rookie. Power is Story’s game and even in a down year like 2017, he managed 24 home runs and 60 extra base hits. He is only 24, so his strikeout rate of almost 35% last season could still improve. If it doesn’t, he won’t be a regular for much longer. His wRC+ dropped to 81 – the lowest total of his pro career. His first half was just plain awful, but he rebounded to have a solid second half, and the Rockies won’t be quick to give up on a 24 year old infielder with 51 home runs in his first 875 at bats. Story is an average defender so his glove won’t push him to the bench. If Story starts out strong, the job is still his to lose, but if the Rockies drift out of contention and Rodgers looks like he is ready, Story might become a trade chip. They are not likely to get more offense at the position if Story is even halfway between his first two seasons in the majors so there isn’t really an upgrade ready for the start of the season. Colorado will stand pat for now.

Right field was formerly the realm of Cargo – Carlos Gonzalez – but he became a free agent and although it looked unlikely that he would return, that is exactly what just happened. The Rockies re-signed Gonzalez to a one year deal with a base salary of $5 million. It is unclear what his role will be – he probably will be splitting time at the corners. Gonzalez has always been streaky, but his good streaks were so good that they would carry the team for weeks. His best streak of 2017 came at the end of the season but wasn’t nearly enough to salvage an awful campaign. 84 wRC+ is unacceptable from a corner outfielder – especially one who doesn’t put up good defensive numbers anymore. David Dahl is likely to get the starting job in right. Dahl (who based on his injury history could easily be nicknamed China Dahl) missed all of last season with multiple injuries. Dahl, a former first round pick chosen 10th overall in 2012, is 23. He won the starting job with a nice half season audition in 2016 where he hit .315 and slugged enough to post a wRC+ of 113. If he can actually stay healthy, the Rockies will get the chance to see if he is the answer or a disappointment occupying another spot where they need an upgrade. He looks like he should be a solid starter but probably not a star. If he can stay healthy and come anywhere near what he posted in his half season of 2016 then that will be a tremendous upgrade from Cargo in 2017. if he is injured or doesn’t produce, the Rockies offense will be in trouble.

Catching has long been regarded as a defense first position and that may still be true, but the Rockies catching position was death to offense until they acquired Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy was a free agent and signed with the A’s. The Rockies signed prodigal son Chris Iannetta who is coming off a rebirth of sorts. Iannetta put up his first wRC+ above average since 2014 with a power and walk driven 120 wRC+. Could he do it again? Maybe. But Iannetta is 35 so it’s less likely that he is entering into a new productive phase of his career and more likely that 2017 was a blip. Iannetta should still be an improvement over the pre-Lucroy catching crew. It helps that Iannetta’s framing numbers were improved too. The Rockies have already made their catching move for the season, and it is also possible that Tom Murphy could regain some of his former prospect gloss now that he has had a normal off-season to recover from the injury that cost him the likely starting job during spring training last year. A catching tandem of Murphy and Iannetta will definitely provide more offense than the Tony-Wolters-Dustin-Garneau-whoever-else-happened-to-be-in-town-that-day group that the Rockies started with last season.

A few things could happen with the positions in 2018 that would add production to the Rockies lineup that would not involve a trade or a free agent signing. Raimel Tapia will likely improve. He is athletic, fast, and has excellent bat to ball abilities. Most of his offensive value is tied up in his speed and his ability to hit for a high batting average. He is 24, and reportedly worked hard during the off-season to add muscle. Since Tapia mostly doesn’t walk, he will need to hit over .300 and boost his slugging percentage a bit to become worth the at-bats. He has the defensive chops to easily hold down the starting job in left if his bat improves. Ian Desmond can’t and won’t be as bad as he was in 2017. If he even comes halfway back and is a 2.0 WAR player at either first base or in left, then the Rockies will have improved there as well. Ryan McMahon will be in the mix for first base and the most likely outcome is that he will end up at first with Desmond in left. If McMahon only meets his modest projections then he will be around a league average hitter. If he hits like his minor league career says he should, then the Rockies will score a lot more runs as McMahon gets on base, hits a ton of doubles, and carries a high batting average – kind of the anti-Mark Reynolds.

If the Rockies choose to spend more money, there are certainly hitters out there to be had. Logan Morrison is still out there and is coming off his best season of his career. He will be 30 this year and does two things quite well – he walks and he smashes baseballs into the stands. He put those two skills together last season to record 130 wRC+ with 38 home runs and a .353 on-base percentage due to 81 walks. Morrison is a gamble due to his age, his career .245 batting average, and his inconsistency. Still, LoMo is likely to be had for less than one would normally pay for a hitter coming off a 38 homer season. Mike Moustakas would not sniff 3rd base for the Rockies because Nolan Arenado plays all the time and is an historically great defender, but let’s say the Rockies already know they aren’t planning on signing Arenado when he becomes a free agent after this season. They could have signed Moustakas, who was certainly getting antsy to sign after his best season with the bat (116 wRC+), played him at first, and move him to third when Arenado departs for better free agent waters. Yeah, it’s a stretch and there is no comparison between the 27 year old Arenado and the 29 year old Moustakas, who just had his breakout season. But if you are the Rockies you have to look at contingency plans when you’re about to be stuck trying to sign your two best players to mega-contracts. The Moose ship has sailed as he finally yelled uncle and re-signed with the Royals for one year. Based on what the Rockies did last year when they stood pat with their rotation and were proved right, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them count on McMahon, Desmond, Dahl, and Tapia to make gains (or hope that Cargo rebounds) and fill the holes in the Rockies lineup that glared so brightly last season when they over-performed their way to the Wild Card game.

 

Was signing Ian Desmond the right way for the Rockies to spend their money?

To Whom Should the Rockies Hand Their Money?
by Jim Silva

    70 million dollars is a large sum of money to spend on gum, or tape, or paper cranes, or lima beans, but it is not a large sum of money to spend for five years of service from a bona fide baseball star. The Rockies spent $70 million this offseason to improve their infield and their lineup. They signed Ian Desmond, a shortstop, and more recently a center-fielder to play first base, in theory plugging the only hole in their infield. Yes, that part is a bit confusing. Why did they sign someone to play first base who has never played a professional inning – not in the majors and not in the minors – at first base? Also, why did they pay so much money to improve at first base? I mean, didn’t they already have a first baseman? They short answer is, “Yes” and the long answer is, “kinda”. Mark Reynolds, the guy who got the lion’s share of the time at first, was almost exactly league average – maybe a touch below. Another question you should be asking is, “Why did they sign Ian Desmond when the market was glutted with big, strong first basemen types?” Ah, that’s a good place to start, so let’s!
    Here is a short list of free agent first basemen who were free agents this offseason. I’ve included a few numbers to go with their names and ages. I included Desmond even though he isn’t yet a first baseman. It isn’t an exhaustive list – I cherry-picked a bit – but it is still pretty long. Several of these guys still haven’t signed.

Name/Age
wRC+ 2016/career
First base (DRS/UZR per 150 for 2016) & (DRS/UZR per 150 for career)
(Slash Line for 2016) & (Slash Line for career)
Ian Desmond/31
106/101
Never played
(.285/.335/.446) &
(.267/.316/.427)
Edwin Encarnacion/34
134/126
(0/3.5) & (-17/-6.0)
(.263/.357/.529) &
(.266/.352/.498)
Mark Trumbo/31
123/111
(0/1.3) & (12/6.3)
(.256/.316/.533) &
(.251/.303/.473)
Steve Pearce/33
136/111
(2/5.2) & (12/8.8)
(.288/.374/.492) &
(.254/.333/.441)
Sean Rodriguez/31
129/92
(1/-22.4) & (4/5.1)
(.279/.349/.510) &
(.234/.303/.390)
Brandon Moss/33
105/110
(-3/-10.1) & (-22/-9.3)
(.225/.300/.484) &
(.241/.319/.455)
Jose Bautista/36
122/132
(0/0) almost no data & (-2/-8.3)
(.234/.366/.452) &
(.255/.368/.493)
Mike Napoli/35
113/123
(-4/-6.1) & (15/3.3)
(.239/.335/.465) &
(.252/.352/.480)
Kendrys Morales/33
110/114
(0/10.9) & (11/6.2)
(.263/.327/.468) &
(.273/.331/.465)
Matt Holliday/37
109/137
(1/10.5) & (1/10.5) small sample size
(.246/.322/.461) &
(.303/.382/.515)
Chris Carter/30
112/112
(-5/-5.7) & (-19/-7.1)
(.222/.321/.499) &
(.218/.314/.463)

    Glancing at the numbers above, the weakest producers offensively based on career numbers are Desmond and Sean Rodriguez. I am basing that on wRC+ which is runs created above average where 100 is dead average and each point represents a 1% increase on the field after adjusting for park and league, and OPS combining on-base percentage and slugging percentage. If you look at last season only, then we are probably looking at Moss and Desmond – maybe Holliday too. If you base your judgement on defense then there is really no data on Desmond. If you look at his numbers in left field and shortstop it is a mixed bag, although he is probably not worse than mediocre nor better than average. Moving to a new position if he works hard he could probably reach average, but it would be foolish to count on more than that. Of the guys who have put in real time at first, Moss and Encarnacion are probably the worst of the group.  If you want to factor age into it, then Desmond is one of the youngest and Holliday and Bautista are the old guys. Basically you pick your poison, but what poison did the Rockies pick?
    What to make of all of this? Well, they signed the guy with the third highest batting career average who is probably the most athletic of the group and one of the youngest who is likely to age the best. He is also arguably the most durable – since 2010 when he became a starter he has played fewer than 150 games only once. Perhaps they were signing someone who could play multiple positions in case they made a late signing of one of the other guys on the list above who was pretty limited to first base. Other than that I am unclear as to why they would commit $70 million over five years to a guy who is perceived to be better than league average, but is in reality pretty much league average. I hear he is a great guy and who doesn’t love a player who works hard, but for $70 million one must wonder if they could have locked down one of the other guys on the list like Bautista, who signed for 1 year and $18 million, or Encarnacion, who signed for 3 years and $60 million (plus a 1 year option). They could have also gone the cheaper route and inked Trumbo, who signed for 3 years at $37.5 million, Carter who signed for 1 year and $3 million, or Pearce who signed for 2 years and $12.5 million. All those mentioned above have better offensive numbers and have played first base with varying degrees of success. Some of them are good defenders at first and some are monster power hitters, but again, all of them are better run producers than Desmond over the course of their careers and based just on last season. I guess in summation I have to say, oops. Desmond will be fine, but they could have spent their money better, hoped to solve first base internally in a year or two (Nevin, McMahon, or Welker are solid prospects who have or likely will play first) or just waited instead of jumping so early on Desmond in a market flooded with first base dudes. But the rest of the infield is really interesting.
    Moving to the other corner, third base, we have the legitimate superstar of the Rockies, Nolan Arenado. It is challenging to discuss the 25 year old without resorting to strings of superlatives about his defense and his production at the plate. Last season was his best with the bat as he created 124 wRC+, hit the ball harder more often (37.9% of the time), nearly doubled his walk rate (to 9.8%) while decreasing his strikeout rate from the previous season and still crushing 41 home runs. Jeez! He slashed .294/.362/.570 while staying close to career BABIP numbers indicating that this is just what he is now as opposed to this being  fluke season. With the glove, his 20 DRS/5.3 UZR per 150 innings played is consistent with his career numbers and he won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove. Yes, his fourth and he is only 25. It is easy to think of him as being older than he is because he has been so good since he came up. If you are into WAR (Good God, y’all!) here are his numbers for each of his four seasons in the majors in chronological order: 3.8, 4.1, 5.8, 6.5. Yes, it has gone up each year and may very well continue that trend if he holds onto his growth in plate discipline and stays healthy. He is simply the best at his position at a time when some of the best players in baseball play third base. One of the reasons that the Rockies need to try to win in the next two years is because Arenado can become a free agent in 2020 and he will be courted hard by any team with money. If he leaves it will be a devastating blow to Colorado. But the Rockies have a chance to win now and they need to capitalize on that short window, because Arenado will likely be too expensive by 2020 for all but the teams with the biggest pocket books – the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, and Giants, Tigers, and Cubs and maybe a couple of other teams who will build around Nolan.
    Second base is usually the place for failed shortstops who can hit some. The Rockies starting second baseman DJ LeMahieu was in fact a shortstop as a freshman in college before moving to second base and played more shortstop than second base is his first year as a pro before reversing the trend from there on out. DJ is 28 and has been the starter at second for four seasons, since coming over from the Cubs in the Ian Stewart trade. In 2015, LeMahieu showed some growth in his ability to hit for average finishing the season hitting .301 and making the All Star team. In 2014 LeMahieu won a Gold Glove for his play at second posting a DRS of 16 and a UZR per 150 innings of 11.0. It was his second excellent defensive year in a row and he was recognized for his work. Still, DJ had never posted a wRC+ of 100 as a big leaguer so it wouldn’t have taken much to dethrone him and turn him into a utility infielder – after all he has played short, and third, as well as second, so he was well qualified to handle the bench job. Well, 2016 changed all of that possibly for good. The 6’4 second baseman hit .348 to win the batting title, contributed 128 wRC+ and posted his first season with a WAR over 2.0 as his overall game was worth 4.9 WAR.
    A lot changed in LeMahieu’s game in 2016. Since 2013, his walk rate has jumped 1.7%, then 2.0%, and finally last season another 2.3% to put him at a walk rate of 10.4%. That combined with his batting average jump gave him an on-base percentage of .416 making him an elite leadoff man. One caveat – LeMahieu is not a great base stealer although that kind of depends on what season you are viewing. Last season he went 11 for 18 so his career rate is now about 68%. If the decline is real, he is now at the point where he should just stay put. He is at best an average base runner so if you think all leadoff men need to run like Rickey Henderson then you will be sorely disappointed by Mr. LeMahieu. But the rest of DJ’s offensive game is pretty glorious. He sprays the ball all over the field and last year hit the ball hard – really hard – with a hard hit ball percentage of 35.2%. Without looking at launch angles I can’t say why more balls don’t leave the yard, but when he hits the ball that hard to all fields and only hits 11 out of the park, but tags 32 doubles and 8 triples, one can infer that he hits the ball on a line without a ton of loft. It was a huge year for him and obviously analysts wonder if he can do it again at 28. The peripherals – his yearly increase in walk rate, his increase in hard hit balls, his growth toward using all fields – point to this being the new DJ LeMahieu. I would be shocked to see him increase his output, although he could probably trade some batting average for another 10 homers or so if he wanted, but the Rockies would probably prefer to have DJ be DJ. He isn’t flashing the leather like he used to – the last two seasons have seen numbers that make him look like a league average guy instead of a Gold Glover – but his offense, combined with his solid D, make him a low level star nonetheless. He is the slightly less flashy half of the double play combination and that is just fine.
    The other half of the double play combo was Troy Tulowitzki for many years. He was the star of the team even though he was often injured. Last season was the Rockies first full season without Tulo and it was looking like they would be stuck with Jose Reyes and his considerable baggage (and bloated contract) until Reyes impugned the Rockies organizational worth, and then became embroiled in a domestic abuse scandal resulting in a suspension. This opened the door for, well, anybody but Reyes. The Rockies had a handful of interesting young shortstop types in the minors and one was about ready for a major league trial. Trevor Story won the job and put on a power show that cemented him into the starter’s job before the first month of the season was over. The Rockies wisely ate Reyes’ contract and cut him so as not to undermine Story’s confidence. Story was having a (don’t worry – I wasn’t going to say a “Storybook season”) stupendous rookie year and had pretty much locked down the Rookie of The Year Award, when he injured his thumb, requiring surgery and ending his season after 97 games and 415 plate appearances. Story had always shown solid power in the minors, but had shown a pattern of needing two seasons to master each level. Apparently Trevor forgot about that pattern, because he had 10 home runs by the end of March and 21 by the halfway mark in the season. He had slowed down a bit by the end of the second half with his average dropping to .260, but then Story apparently made some kind of change in approach (or just got some rest) during the All Star break and hit .340/.417/.698 in 15 post All Star games before his injury. If he is something between his first half and that second half surge, then he is a perennial All Star at shortstop in the National League. A rookie who puts up 120 wRC+ and plays shortstop is gold. The read on Story’s glove is that he isn’t flashy or particularly wide-ranging, but he makes plays on balls he gets to. His DRS of 4 and UZR/150 innings played of -4.5 support that claim with his range factor hurting his UZR rating. Story only made 10 errors for a fielding percentage of .977. The Rockies are used to having a great fielding shortstop, but having a solid shortstop who can rake, next to a great fielding third baseman is going to have to do until Brendan Rodgers – their top prospect who happens to be a shortstop –  advances, and forces the Rockies to make a decision. The future might have Rodgers at short and Story at third where his glove, arm and lack of range look better.
    Brendan Rodgers isn’t just the Rockies top prospect. Keith Law ranked him as the 19th best prospect in all of baseball for the 2017 season. The 20 year old third overall pick from the 2015 draft will start the season in High A after completing his first full season of professional baseball last year. Rodgers showed that he can hit, although some analysts disagree on what his home/road splits (.973 OPS at home and .682 on the road) say about what his numbers really mean. Rodgers managed 50 extra base hits including 19 home runs in 442 at bats. There was a decent amount of swing and miss to his game as he struck out 98 times, but he walked 35 times to mitigate his fanning ways. As a 19 year old playing full season ball for the first time, it means something when you put together a .281/.342/.480 slash line while playing most of your games at shortstop. He still has work to do, so don’t expect to see him in Coors Field anytime soon – his .923 and .933 fielding percentages at short the last two years mean that his glove is not ready even if you think his bat is close. This will be a big season for him as he moves up a level. If he maintains his power and continues to improve with the glove at shortstop, the Rockies can start to get excited about another potential star on the infield playing in the thin air of Denver.
    Even when you take into account the ballpark, the Rockies had an infield full of run producers and some legit stars. Arenado is one of the best players in baseball, period. Their weak spot if you can call it that is at first where Ian Desmond will likely be at least league average. The rest of the infield is set for as long as they can afford them and they will be fun to watch as they blister the ball all over the field and handle their glove work between spectacularly and adequately. One scary thought, if the Rockies get off to a bad start, look for them to trade their superstar Arenado for maybe the best haul of young talent in the last decade and not miss a beat as their young studs start to mature and push the Rockies toward a future in the postseason. Rockies fans, send Nolan your love while you have him!

What happened to the 2007 Rockies?

Where Have You Gone Matt Holiday?
by Jim Silva

    The high point of the Colorado Rockies history, so far, was when Matt Holliday slid face-first into home plate, and came up bloody, in the 163rd game of the 2007 season, to propel the team into the playoffs. They had just won their 90th game, the most wins up to that point in franchise history,  and still their second highest win total. They had a superstar shortstop in Troy Tulowitzki who was 22, and a young core of position players, like Tulo, Brad Hawpe, Garret Atkins, and Matt Holliday who were all between 22 and 28, and young pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Manny Corpas, Jeremy Affeldt, and Franklin Morales, who were all between 21 and 28 themselves. It looked like the post-season run was the start of a new era for the franchise. There have been eight seasons since Holliday’s dash home against the Padres, and the team has only had two winnings seasons and one playoff appearance since then. Tulowitzki is gone, as is everyone else from the team – no surprise in this time of quick roster turnover. So what happened to that promising 2007 Rockies’ club?
    Let’s use WAR (Wins Above Replacement) since the value is calculated for position players and pitchers. It is probably a hammer, rather than a pocket knife, but it will give us an idea of where the 16 wins went between the 2007 Rockies and the 2008 Rockies.
    Chris Iannetta took over the lion’s share of the catching duties from Yorvit Torrealba in 2008. Iannetta was 25 and put up 3.1 WAR to Torrealba’s -0.6. The previous year, the catching tandem had put up 0.9 and 0.3 WAR (Torrealba and Iannetta respectively), so the 2008 catching position was an improvement. The rest of the infield looked nothing like its 2007 self.
    Todd Helton, the closest to a household name on the Rockies turned 34 in 2008 and started to show his age, playing only 83 games due to injuries and posting a 1.0 WAR season, his first sub-2.0 WAR in a full season in his career. That was a substantial drop from his 2007 mark of 4.4. When he was out, the position was primarily manned by Garret Atkins and Jeff Baker who posted WARs of -0.3 and 0.4, numbers that include their time at other positions. Atkins had been the primary third baseman in 2007, in spite of his horror film glove work, and had earned 0.3 WAR (2.9 offensive WAR and -2.4 defensive WAR). With Helton down, and the Rockies tiring of Atkins mockery of defense at third, they moved Atkins to first to cover for Helton and put 22 year old rookie, Ian Stewart at third base. Stewart put up a respectable 1.4 WAR season in 304 plate appearances, so you could argue that third was a bit of an upgrade – about 1.0 WAR – while production at first fell off a cliff.
    Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki combined for 10.2 WAR in 2007 covering the middle of the infield, with Matsui putting up 3.4 WAR and Tulo amassing 6.8 WAR. It was Matsui’s only season with the Rockies and the fans were livid when the Rockies allowed him to sign with the Astros as a free agent. He was one of those players who is often called a spark plug, and the fans had fallen in love. The Rockies replaced him with Clint Barmes, Jeff Baker, Jonathan Herrera, Omar Quintanilla, and Jayson Nix. To complicate things further, Tulo only managed 101 games, as the 23 year old succumbed to injuries – a prelude to a common theme in his career. The young shortstop wasn’t producing at the same rate as his 2007 self when he was on the field posting 0.8 WAR when he wasn’t on the disabled list. Barmes and a few of the other middle infielders covered short in Tulo’s absence. The middle infield, previously the source of excellent offense and defense in 2007, was a mess in 2008. Barmes put up 2.4 WAR splitting time between second and shortstop, Baker and Herrera each put of 0.4 WAR, and Quintanilla posted a 0.5 WAR season.
    Matt Holliday, the hero of the 2007 late season run, put up an almost identical year in 2008 in terms of WAR with 5.8 as an encore to his 6.0 WAR from 2007. The rest of the outfield hadn’t exactly been a source of joy in 2007, but it got worse in 2008. The adequate centerfield picture from 2007 featured 25 year old Wily Taveras and Ryan Spilborghs splitting time with each putting up a 1.1 WAR season. Neither put up stellar defensive numbers – negative defensive WAR from both men – but both contributed something offensively – Spilborghs put up a  .299/.363/.485 slash line, while Taveras managed a .320/.367/.382 slash line of his own. Spilborghs drew walks and hit some home runs, while Taveras hit for a high average, drew only 21 walks in 408 plate appearances, and slugged an anemic .382. In 2008, both of their games collapsed with Taveras contributing 0.0 WAR and Spilborghs adding 0.1 WAR. Taveras added a few more walks, but his batting average drop of 69 points destroyed his offensive value. Spilborghs put up another good offensive season, but was again a bust defensively (1.4 offensive WAR and -1.5 defensive WAR).
    In right field, Brad Hawpe contributed power (25 home runs) and the ability to get on base (.381 OBP) to post a 2.8 offensive WAR season, which would have worked out great had he been a designated hitter. Unfortunately for the Rockies, he contributed -3.4 WAR in right field wiping out his offensive value, for an overall WAR of 0.0. It wasn’t that Hawpe was dropping fly balls in right – the culprit was his shocking lack of range. He just wasn’t getting to balls that most right fielders were catching. His range in 2007 was 1.83 per nine innings as compared to a league average of 2.18. In 2008 it was even worse. Hawpe’s range was 1.50 with league average coming in at 2.12. That represents a substantial number of outs that Hawpe was turning into hits – a little more than one every other game. Over 162 games that really adds up, and it is hard to contribute enough offensively to make up for that kind of statue-like defensive. From 2007 to 2008, the Rockies saw a drop in WAR from their everyday right fielder from 1.5 to 0.0.
    At almost every position, the starters experienced regression. Defensively, the Rockies went from first in the league in fewest number of errors and fielding percentage to 6th and 5th respectively. Their offense went from 2nd in the NL in runs scored to 8th. Their non-pitcher OPS+ dropped from 104 to 96 – in other words they went from slightly better than league average to slightly worse than league average after adjusting for the park differences. Clearly the guys who weren’t pitching had some hand in derailing the club, but what about the pitchers?
    The 2007 rotation consisted mainly of Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Josh Fogg, Jason Hirsch, and a combination of 5th starters, with the most promising being Ubaldo Jimenez. Fogg and Hirsch were there to eat innings – the former was out of baseball three years later and Hirsch would not appear in the majors again after 2008 – but the other three were being counted on as the backbone of the Rockies starting five for now, and for years to come. Cook put up six consecutive seasons in Colorado with ERA+s above 100, making him one of the most successful starting pitchers in Rockies’ history. Francis was considered the ace of the rotation, but only managed two seasons where his ERA+ bested 100. Jimenez was probably the most spectacular arm in the rotation. From his rookie season (when he was 22) through his age 26 season his ERA+ was above 100. In 2010 he almost became the first Rockies pitcher to win 20 games falling one short, and putting together an ERA of 2.88 – unheard of for a starting pitcher in Coors Field.
    Francis earned 3.9 WAR in 2007, Cook added 2.2, Fogg and Hirsch were each right around 1.0, and the combination of Jimenez and Rodrigo Lopez (who chipped in 14 starts), added 1.8 WAR to the mix. In 2008 there was a bit of a shakeup in the rotation – Hirsh went down early with a shoulder injury, Fogg left to pitch for the Reds. Francis fell off and only put up 1.5 WAR, but Cook won 16 games and jumped to 4.3 WAR. Jorge De La Rosa took Fogg’s spot and contributed 1.0 WAR essentially matching Fogg’s 2007 output. Mark Redman, Geldon Rusch, and Livan Hernandez made a mess of one rotation spot with WARs of -0.8, -1.2, and -1.2 respectively. Ubaldo Jimenez started his run of good pitching for the Rockies putting up a 3.8 WAR season as a 24 year old. There was a drop off in one rotation spot, but for the most part the starters pulled their weight.
    Manny Corpas had been a revelation in 2007, supplanting closer Brian Fuentes and nailing down 19 saves while compiling an ERA of 2.08 for a 2.9 WAR season. The Rockies bullpen had depth and versatility. Fuentes saved 20 games himself with a 3.08 ERA, contributing 1.1 WAR. They could also run out Jeremy Affeldt, Latroy Hawkins, Matt Herges, and Franklin Morales – all of whom posted WARs of over 1.0. The bullpen was the Rockies’ secret weapon that became not-so-secret during the off-season when writers were looking for the cause of the Rockies’ 14 game improvement. So did the pen collapse in 2008 dragging the Rockies down with them?
    The 2007 relief corps was one of the best the Rockies ever managed to field. 2008 saw Manny Corpas regress – a WAR of 0.8 – but Brian Fuentes picked up the slack with a WAR of 2.1. Jeremy Affeldt was replaced by Jason Grilli who put together a 1.4 WAR season. Taylor Buchholz went from a 0.9 WAR 2007 to a 2.0 WAR 2008. Herges and Morales both dropped off with WARs around 0.0. Ryan Speier and Luis Vizcaino pitched in 86 games between them and put up 0.7 and 0.1 WAR seasons respectively. The bullpen was not bad, but they certainly weren’t nearly as deep nor nearly as dependable as they had been in 2007.
    It is easy to blame the pitching in Colorado when things go south, but really it was more the offense and defense that dropped off. The Rockies’ pitching almost never looks very good when you look at raw stats because they play half their games in the launching pad of Coors Field. The pen wasn’t “lights out” in 2008, but it featured a good closer, and two good setup men. The rotation was solid. Tulo and Helton’s lost seasons, the loss of Matsui, and the inevitable glove failures of Atkins and Hawpe were what brought the Rockies down. Atkins and Hawpe were both excellent trade bait after 2007 and Matsui could have been signed to play second – he went to Houston for $5.5 million which is less than what he made for the Mets the season before joining Colorado. The failure of the Rockies’ management to try to improve after a great season was probably caused by failing to look at what the stats really showed. Hawpe and Atkins weren’t stars. Is it a coincidence that the Rockies best defensive team ever was also the most successful team ever? Defense actually matters; especially, it would seem, in a ballpark as huge as Coors field. This isn’t the last time you will hear that on Red Seam Dreams.

The Rockies Infield in 2016: What? No Tulo?!

Infields of Gold
by Jim Silva

    At the start of last season, the Colorado Rockies had a chance to have three Gold Glove infielders playing at the same time. How often has that happened? More often than you’d think, actually. In fact, one example, the 1973 Orioles had three guys in their infield win it in the same year they played together. Brooks Robinson (3rd base), Mark Belanger (shortstop), and Bobby Grich (2nd base) all won the Gold Glove in 1973 playing for the Orioles – their centerfielder (Paul Blair) won it in 1973 also. Still, it is a cool thing to have, and not exactly common. The Rockies still have Gold Glove winners D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado, but are currently stuck with an extremely expensive albatross of a shortstop in Jose Reyes after trading away Troy Tulowitzki, the third member of the Rockies’ Gold Glove infielder’s club. Until last season, Reyes had been a reliable 2.0 to 4.0 WAR producer, mainly because of his bat. The last time he picked up at least 1.0 defensive WAR was in 2007 when he was 24. Using DRS (defensive runs saved), Reyes has cost his team between 4 and 16 runs a season every year since 2010, including eight runs last season in 116 games. It was widely speculated that when the Blue Jays included him in the Tulowitzki trade, the Rockies would turn around and trade him for more prospects since the Rockies are rebuilding and have no desire to keep a declining player who is making $22 million a year. That curiously didn’t happen, creating speculation that the Colorado management didn’t have a cohesive plan. The situation darkened when Reyes made comments indicating that he had no interest in playing for the Rockies, and then was accused of domestic abuse during this off-season, making him about the least tradable player in all of baseball. He goes to trial in April. The Rockies had weakened arguably their greatest strength in an attempt to acquire prospects and undoubtedly thought they could move Reyes. Maybe it will work out for them, but sadly the best outcome might be for Reyes to be suspended for a good chunk of the season saving the Rockies part of the $22 million they owe him in 2016.
    In the meantime, the Rockies are drooling over their shortstop of the future, Brendan Rogers, their first round pick in last year’s draft who has already risen to the 20th spot in all of baseball on BP’s top 101 prospect rankings for 2016. As if Rogers wasn’t exciting enough, they have another young shortstop, who is much closer than Rogers to being ready for the majors, in Trevor Story. Story repeated AA last season and spent a half season in AAA showing a solid glove, good range, and donating 20 baseballs to fans watching him from the outfield seats. Story’s slash line was .279/.350/.514 between his two stops in the minors in 2015. Half of that was accomplished in the hitter’s paradise of the Pacific Coast League, but for a shortstop who has a solid arm and solid range and is only 23, that is something to be excited about. In spite of Story’s power and speed – he is also a high percentage base-stealer (probably a great cook too!) – he is considered somewhat of a disappointment with the bat because of his poor strike zone judgment. The shortstop struck out 141 times last season in 512 at-bats, which was a solid improvement from 2014 when he struck out 144 times in only 396 at-bats. 2013 was even worse – he struck out an earth-shattering 183 times in 497 at-bats at the high A level. Story walked 60 and 51 times respectively in 2014 and 2015 so it isn’t all bad news, but nobody can strike out that often in the minors and claim to be ready for the better pitching at the major league level. Good news – Story repeated high A and improved dramatically, then did the same with AA, so he is capable of great growth. That’s good news for the Rockies, who are currently stuck with Jose Reyes through the 2017 season (there is a $4,000,000 buyout for 2018) unless he can regain value this season and get himself traded. If Reyes stays with the Rockies through 2016, Story has a little time to repeat AAA and nail it like he has done in the past with lower levels. Rodgers spent his first season collecting a baseball paycheck last year in the Pioneer League, so Story likely has a couple/three seasons to establish himself before being caught from behind, if the Rockies give him a chance. If Reyes gets suspended for a long stretch, then put your money on Story to get his chance.
    DJ LeMahieu was Tulo’s full-time keystone partner for the last three seasons and collected the aforementioned Gold Glove in 2014. DJ saved the Rockies 17 runs that year at second base, but dropped off to 3 runs saved last season – still solid. What he did for the first time last season was contribute with the stick, creating 75 runs, 28 more than his previous high RC. LeMahieu was good for 2.0 offensive WAR and 2.3 WAR overall – his first season above 2.0 (1.4, 1.2, and 1.5 in 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively). His slash line of .301/.358/.388 is good work for a slick-fielding second baseman. If he can repeat those numbers, or continue to improve (he is 27) then he might continue to make the All Star Game like he did for the first time in 2015.
    The beast at 3rd base, Nolan Arenado, won his first Fielding Bible Award – oh – and his third Gold Glove in his third season in the majors in 2015. Arenado has saved 64 runs in those three seasons besting Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, and Kyle Seager for total runs saved since 2013. Those guys won the last three Fielding Bible Awards and/or Gold Gloves. Arenado has range and a cannon for an arm, and great feet to set up every play. He also is willing to give up his body as evidenced by a couple scary forays into the stands making catches on foul pops last season. “Sharknado” put up 5.8 worth of WAR with a huge breakout year. His glove is old hat by now, but he finally hit the way the Rockies have been expecting. Arenado led the league in home runs with 42, RBI with 130, and total bases with 354, posting a slash line of .287/.323/.575 (an OPS of .898) and finishing 8th in MVP balloting. His first half was a little better than his second half (.926 OPS versus .866 OPS) but he was generally consistent from start to finish. Arenado has established himself as the star of the Rockies, and remember he is only 24, so he is here to stay.
    It used to be that every year you could just write Todd Helton’s name into the first base spot and be done with it.  Since 2011, the last season Helton put up numbers worthy of a starter, the Rockies have been doing a lot of mixing and matching of first basemen. Only Justin Morneau’s 3.2 WAR 2014 could be considered a big success. Next season looks to be another season of mixing and matching at first with the Rockies trying to decide between Ben Paulsen, Mark Reynolds, and Carlos Gonzalez, who has never played first base in the professional ball.
    Paulsen played 91 of his 116 games at first last season, but didn’t nail down the job. Ben was flat neutral as a defender at first, not saving or costing the Rockies even a tenth of a run, so it was up to his bat to swing the scale one way or the other. Paulsen was a 3rd round pick in 2009 and hit some in the minors, but that’s the problem – “some” just isn’t enough for first base. He accrued 0.8 WAR over the course of 116 games and 354 plate appearances in 2015, so he helped the Rockies win – kind of. The rule of thumb when using WAR is that 2.0 WAR is the mark of a starter and anything lower is bench player. Trying to extrapolate Paulsen’s WAR to a full season still has him falling short of the mark and based on his minor league numbers, what you see is pretty much what you get. His average, slugging, and on-base percentage marks last season were in line with what he’d done in the minors, and he is 28, so expecting much growth means you are a hopeless Rockies fan.
    The Rockies signed Mark Reynolds in December to compete for the first base spot, or get work as the corner infield backup man. Reynolds played mainly at first for the Cardinals last season, but also got on the field at 2nd, 3rd, and in the outfield. Reynolds is a masher who strikes out at often-historical rates – he holds the mark for strikeouts in a single season with 223 in 2009. He is also 4th, 7th, and 14th on the single season strikeout list. He is really good at striking out! He is also quite good at hitting home runs having notched seasons of 32, 37, and 44 along with four 20-plus seasons. So are all the long balls worth all the wind Reynolds stirs up around home plate? Part of the problem is that Reynolds registers all those strikeouts without accruing a decent number of walks to offset them. If he managed to pick up 80 walks to go with the home runs and whiffs (like he did in the middle of his career) then he would be a much more valuable player. As it is, his on-base percentages over the last three seasons have been .306, .287, and .315 which means dude is creating outs by the truckload. All those outs drag down his offensive value to the point where it is questionable whether you want him taking up a spot on your 25 man roster. Since 2010, Reynolds has been in the red for defensive runs saved every season but one – he saved six runs in 2014. So you can’t keep him around for his glove either, not that the Rockies are thinking that. If he gets regular playing time, Reynolds will hit home runs in Coors Field, of this there is no doubt. He will also strike out by the bushel and his glove will be no better than mediocre. The temptation for the Rockies will be to run him out there so fans can get excited by his moon shots, but he will likely be a sub 1.0 WAR guy like he has been every year since he registered 1.2 WAR in 2012.
    This off-season there has been talk of moving Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies power-hitting left-fielder, to first to save his body some of the wear and tear that has put him on the disabled list enough in 2013 and 2014 to limit to 180 games played between the two seasons. Even at the start of last season Cargo’s balky knee was making him look old and limited and then he started to feel better and crushed the ball the rest of the way. The Rockies still might trade their expensive superstar, but if they don’t, they need to find a way to get him in the lineup as often as possible. A move to first base, where they don’t have an obvious solution, makes a lot of sense. Gonzalez is only 30 so he should have more 30+ homer seasons in the tank (40 last season). There is a cost to moving an outfielder with three Gold Gloves to the infield, but are the Gold Gloves legitimate? Gonzalez saved the Rockies five runs last year – not bad. Interestingly, his Runs Saved (RS) numbers have never supported his Gold Glove awards – not even once. He won the award in 2010, 2012, and 2013. His RS numbers in those years were 1, -13, and 11 respectively. Obviously the 2010 and 2012 numbers aren’t worth discussing – he clearly wasn’t the best defensive left-fielder in the National League. The 2013 numbers are good, but Starling Marte saved 24 runs that season significantly besting Gonzalez. It’s fair to say that Cargo is a decent left-fielder, but moving him away from left is not cause for the wringing of hands. Will playing first base help keep Gonzalez off the disabled list? It’s possible. Is it worth the gamble? Well, from an infield standpoint, it is hard to say how his glove will hold up, but assuming he is invested in learning the position, it is hard to believe that he wouldn’t be a huge upgrade over what the Rockies would otherwise run out there. It isn’t a straight math problem where you compare the options at first to the options in left and compare their numbers. If the Rockies get 200 more plate appearances out of Cargo by moving him to the infield then it is almost assuredly worth it. We will explore the question further when I write about the outfield situation next week.

A Look at The Current State of The Colorado Rockies Catching Corps


Catching It From The Bump

by Jim Silva

    Most catchers are imperfect. Actually we can say that about most people, except for our wives who put up with us, which makes them perfect. So as I said, most catchers are imperfect, and Nick Hundley is no exception. He does some things well that help his team, and he does some things poorly that hurt his team. The math for the Rockies management involves deciding if there is a way to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses enough to make him valuable enough to keep. If they decide that he isn’t worth keeping around then they need to try to find another team who needs his strengths and can tolerate his weaknesses. Hundley is a decent hitter – slightly better than league average last season even after making the park adjustment – OPS+ (park adjusted on-base percentage, plus slugging) of 104. As a catcher that is darn good. A note of caution – Hundley’s on-base percentage was buoyed by an unsustainable .368 BABIP (measures batting average on all balls that he put in play) – eerily similar to the .362 BABIP he posted in his anomalous 2011 “breakout” season with the Padres. Much of his offensive value comes from his power – he cracked ten home runs in 389 plate appearances last season. Nick’s throwing was around league average last season as he nailed 34% of the 71 scofflaws attempting base thievery – 6% above his career average. He is also pretty average at blocking pitches saving 0.2 runs last season. But Hundley is abysmal at framing pitches. With Nick Hundley behind the plate, the Rockies’ pitchers gave away 14.8 runs due to his poor framing skills. When you put the whole package together Nick Hundley looks like a fringe starting catcher who will hurt your pitching staff but help with the bat in his good years.
    The other two catchers, whom the Rockies are likely to deploy, will be Dustin Garneau and Tom Murphy. Garneau hasn’t shown the ability to hit minor league pitching since being drafted in 2009, nor did he show the ability to hit major league pitching last season when he was called up for 76 plate appearances at the end of 2015. Defensively, his numbers look a lot like Hundley’s, with poor framing numbers, and average throwing and blocking stats. As for Murphy, in his late season cameo last season, he only managed to throw out one of the eight runners who attempted a steal. He did a little better in AAA but has demonstrated lackluster numbers with his arm in the minors too – he figures to be a tick below major league average at nailing base-stealers. Murphy makes his money by knocking the ball out of the park. His slugging percentage has been in the high 400s to mid-500s at virtually every stop. His 39 plate appearances with the big club last season netted him three long balls. Murphy’s problem offensively appears to be a lack of command of the strike zone. In his career to date, young Tom has struck out 315 times and walked only 101 times in 1229 plate appearances at all levels. Unless he can recapture some of his discipline from early in his minor league career, he is going to be creating a lot of outs. Hugh Rothman, writing for FakeTeams.com, lists Murphy as the Rockies’ tenth-best prospect based on his bat, and his improved defense. Murphy is only 24 with legit power, so maybe he will turn into at least a good-hitting backup at catcher. Conventional wisdom says that catchers need longer to develop so we shall see.
    All told, the Rockies’ catching situation is bleak. They are likely to get league average or slightly below hitting from the position, but hurt the pitching staff with their poor pitch framing abilities. Hundley didn’t grow up in the organization, but Garneau and Murphy did, which makes one wonder if the organization isn’t teaching pitch framing. It is a mechanical skill like other parts of catching, and with pitch framing stats appearing in the last few years, perhaps the Rockies will begin to develop catchers in the minors who do a better job of it. For now though, the bats will carry the day, or the catching in Coors Field will be below league-average.